I wanted to write a short opinion-oriented post for T Ching for once; to get away from the interviews, research, and topic-summary themes.  I talk a lot about tea; why not cover how that goes?

Google + ending had me thinking quite a bit about social media, but I’ve posted before about places people talk about tea online.  This time I was thinking more of how it works to expand awareness through discussion.  The thing is, tea is experiential.  And people need to have a reason to go past trying bubble tea and tea-bag tea, and some guy mentioning the subject online doesn’t seem to count for much.

Let’s start with why I’d try to spread the word since it’s not clearly better that such exposure to tea awareness happens quickly versus slowly, or at all.  Part of why I try to share the interest is because of how positively I see tea as a beverage choice: As much healthier than flavored- and sweetened- bubble teas or lattes, and more diverse and interesting.  This citation about Thai flavored teas (which are nice, and popular here) explains that first part best:

At one chain restaurant, a small Thai iced-tea beverage contains 280 calories, while a large one contains 410 calories…  Your tea may also provide 7 to 23 percent of the DV [recommended daily intake] for total fat, as well as 14 to 35 percent of the DV for saturated fat.

All that is fine for an occasional treat but my Thai co-workers are drinking teas like that on a daily basis.

I’ll start with what I’ve tried, and move on a little to the range media tends to cover.  I write a blog about tea, but that’s only ever going to be read by people already unusually interested in tea.  The same applies to answering questions about tea on Quora.

Discussing tea in other places is a next step.  The Reddit r/tea subreddit is a good example.  People would still need to already have some interest in tea to be checking that out; but for many, they’ve only been exposed to tea-bag versions.  The Tea Drinker’s group in Facebook is similar, a beginner-oriented group where most members are already interested in tea blends that might be found in a grocery store but haven’t moved on to an interest in what some others would consider to be “normal” better teas.

Dairy Queen in Thailand

The Dairy Queen Thai tea flavor promotion had an effect on my cholesterol score

It’s hard to convey information about other range without coming across as talking down to people, as implying some level of expertise, or the claim that “my tea is better than your tea.”  It comes down to communicating tone and intention properly; along with the core content: The ideas about the tea.

Next, it’s possible to mention tea reviews or themes in other places, other forums, and groups; but that wouldn’t be welcome in most.  Introducing Thai-produced teas in Thai-themed discussion groups, for example.

It had seemed to me that presenting content about tea through normal media channels (eg. newspaper articles) might be another option, but it’s generally not seen as news.  I’ll mention a couple of newspaper articles–not written by me; I’m not still on that theme–to fill in what the exceptions are like.

The Los Angeles Times recently ran an article “Finding a haven at Tea Habitat, Alhambra’s secret shop for tea geeks.”  That business and vendor overlap with a tea type that does occasionally come up in media sources, Dan Cong oolong; with the Ya Shi or “duck shit” version getting the most attention.  That tea type is sometimes referenced as news interest because the version is so exotic.  A quote from that article sums up how that is often framed:

…She was talking about the oolongs in which she specializes — teas that, through precise oxidation and roasting but without any flavor additions, taste miraculously of stone fruits and spices; multiple steepings can also coax out floral and mineral qualities. They come from farmers and producers who tend single trees, some of them hundreds of years old, grown in one location: the isolated Phoenix Mountain in the north of China’s Guangdong province….

They start at $20 for three ounces of good black tea; some dan cong can cost $70 or more for a single ounce; with numerous steepings, and astonishing flavor, that small quantity can go far, but it’s obviously an investment…

a Wuyi Origin Mi Lan Xiang version; pretty good tea

Dan Cong can be really nice – and better versions are better – but I can buy 100 grams (4 ounces) of a decent version here in a Chinatown shop for just over $15, with a better online version costing $36 for two ounces (50 grams, really).  The more expensive versions can definitely still be worth it – and can even be a good value – so one point here is that a range exists.

I’m concerned that this is how better tea is represented in media: The theme that rare, expensive teas exist that take years of training to appreciate and significant exposure just to brew.  That article author went out of his way to explain why he is a worthy student to undertake exposure to those teas.  Where does that leave someone considering a move away from grocery-store tea-bag teas?

Related to another potential angle, a recent local Bangkok Post article covered the theme of forest-friendly teas.  This is better, in one sense, for drawing on an interest in an origin story; which doesn’t necessarily exclude or limit the audience.  But it’s not really an introduction to basic, better teas either.  Background discussion of some teas being flavored and others distinctive for demonstrating natural flavors might encourage a potential audience to try one or both ranges.  As with the fair-trade-oriented themes that arise (more related to Indian production), at least bringing up a subject related to tea also brings up tea as a beverage.

In the end, I talk about tea where I happen to be: In real life or online; and to push it the next step once in a while host free tasting events.  I’m not sure how vendors or other commercial industry interests could do better, and it’s a little strange that people like me would even try to get the word out to the extent that I do.  Teavana had taken a novel and promising approach for adding stores in local malls and sending people out into foot traffic with samples, but that didn’t seem to work out.  Maybe bubble tea will serve as an effective gateway later on.

Author's wife buying bubble tea

buying bubble tea in Shenzhen China last week

Editor’s note: This post has been updated from the original two-part 2019 version.

Photo “dairy queen bangkok” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License to the photographer Krista and is being posted unaltered (source)
Photo of Wuyi Origin Mi Lan Xiang tea provided by and copyright held by author
Photo of author’s wife buying bubble tea provided by and copyright held by author